When I was traveling for 3 weeks in South Africa in 2011, Cape Town was having rugby fever. It was rugby season and the Springboks were playing the All Blacks. Everyone in Cape Town was wearing a Springbok jersey, and their verve was infectious!

My South African friend Nadem got me a jersey and I’ve kept it all these years. It’s still in pristine condition – see the price tag?

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Today, I dug it out again. Perhaps it’s because of all the rugby World Cup news of late, or perhaps, it’s because I heard on the radio this morning that Nelson Mandela’s body was making its way through the streets of Pretoria in South Africa, so that the ordinary man-in-the-street can say his final goodbyes.

Whatever it was, it made me remember the stories I’d heard in my travels in Cape Town.

In 1995, the newly democratic South Africa (after the fall of apartheid) made its Rugby World Cup debut after many years of anti-apartheid boycott. It hosted the games that year.

The rift then between the blacks and the coloured people of South Africa and the ruling class white elite was wide. There was still much anger and resentment in the country.

It was because of anti-apartheid sentiments that the Springboks missed the last two World Cup series (1987, 1991). But to everyone’s surprise, the underdogs made it to the finals and were set to play against the favourites – New Zealand’s All Blacks. 

In that final game, Nelson Mandela appeared before the mostly white crowd of 62,000 wearing a Springbok jersey to shake the players’ hands before kick-off.

That powerful image of a Black Afrikaan man sporting a garment that was so indelibly associated with the apartheid regime spoke a quiet but powerful message of reconciliation.

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The Springboks ended up defeating the All Blacks 15-12 in the World Cup Finals in 1995.

I feel compelled to remember this great story as we pay our last respects to this great man. My Springbok jersey will always remind me of the lessons I learnt in my short time in South Africa. Important ones, nonetheless. 

Rest in Peace, Mr Mandela.

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